Bob Mitchell: No icemakers! No problem! Thereís Flat Creek

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Back in the days when Cassville residents had only ice boxes, and refrigeration was unknown, to preserve their food for even a short period of time, there was a time during extremely cold weather that all able-bodied males automatically reported to Flat Creek with their special saws.

It was time to cut ice for the remainder of the winter.

Flat Creek ran at a much greater flow of water in those days, and when the temperatures started to dip into the zero levels it didnít take long for ice to develop in the holes of deeper water up and down the creek. This was the lone source of ice except those of private source in the area.

Those involved in this project had to have the ability to use their saws, which resembled cross cut saws with one hand hold removed, normally used for timber, and then handle the large chunks of ice that came out of the creek. These were then loaded onto a wagon and hauled to storage sites.

Available storage sites

As important as the ice was in those days, there were two storage sites used after those doing the work had taken home all the ice they could possibly use.

One of these was the old mill that stood on the edge of Flat Creek at the Seventh Street crossing near the one-time city well. The other one was the old power plant with the chimney still standing, which was once labeled The Hide House and was later a restaurant and bar.

To make the ice last as long as possible, the walls were covered with sawdust or straw, whichever went the farthest and best served the purpose.

Iím not for sure if it was ever related, but the length of duration wasnít extensive under the circumstances, nor was how the ice was dispensed to the public. The price, if revealed, has long been forgotten.

Strawberries saved the day

It took Barry County strawberries to save the homemakerís problem of making their food last longer. It must have been the market for the succulent fruit in markets as far away as St. Louis to make the growersí associations realize that the Cassville and Exeter reefers they were going to use had to be iced down in Cassville if they were to reach their destination in good condition.

Thatís when Railway Ice Company in Monett realized the opportunity, and located a facility at the corner of Sixth and East streets in Cassville. The company made ice here and storage available, augmenting their supply regularly from their plant in Monett.

In those days, every community with access to the railroad had a Strawberry Association that handled berries for their particular community. There were times when disagreements were reported between the organizations.

A beehive of activity

It was early morning when loading of the reefer cars happened, with crates of strawberries bound for a number of destinations, going as far as brokers thought possible to keep the berries as fresh as possible.

While living at the Ray house, I was able to watch from the front porch during one harvest season for the Aromas and Blakemore varieties for which the county was famous. The area around the Depot, managed by an uncle by marriage, Emons Hawk, was a beehive of activity before the C&E took off for the four-mile run to Frisco tracks and an eventual destination.

On occasion, a large chunk of the ice would be mishandled and crash to the ground, seldom to be salvaged by the loading crew. There was usually someone nearby to quickly capture those pieces large enough to quickly rush it home.

Home delivery

Strawberry business was soon were succeeded by Cassville and area businesses, soda fountains, restaurants, and a home delivery established by Railways manager Herschel Horine. His main helper, Johnnie Brock, also ran a regular home delivery route that made the ice card famous. The ice card had several numbers on it, when placed in a window the top number told Brock what size chunk of ice was needed for the ice box that particular day.

For the crushed ice trade, Railways eventually secured a crusher, but before that, this requirement was handled another way. The business would have a wooden box lined in tin in which they would place a chunk of ice and then make their own requirement.

The coming to the area of electricity and refrigeration solved the ice problem, but Brock stayed on a few years providing special ice and cold storage for the area. Eventually, the site was purchased by Arthur Smith for his new First National Bank, and itís been a financial institution ever since.

Safety reminder

Wear a mask when out in public, social distance and avoid large groups for the protection of yourself and those you might be around. Itís the safe way to go!

Bob Mitchell is the former editor and publisher of the Cassville Democrat. He is a 2017 inductee to both the Missouri Press Association Hall of Fame and Missouri Southern State Universityís Regional Media Hall of Fame.